Portland:possibly the best stone in the world

Portland is about halfway along the Jurassic Coast and also marks the most southerly part of Dorset.Added to that it marks the start of the mighty Chesil Beach so it is a place worth visiting.

chesil beach

The island is accessed via a bridge and causeway,though before the bridge there was a ferry crossing.So in that sense it is an island though it is also connected to Chesil Beach which some say makes it NOT a island.But does it matter?

The important thing is that geology has created a spectacular setting.When the Eurpoean and African continents collided some 30 million years ago, pressure forced the rock upwards to form the Weymouth Anticline.The pressure was asymetrical so the southern end had a much shallower gradient.

The Isle of Portland is all that remains of this southern end.

The rock is made up of Kimmeridge Clay overlaid by Portland Sand and Portland Limestone.This latter stone forms the most famous stone in Britain.The lower part known as chert is of little value for for building,but the higher part is of great value as it is "freestone" .

This is stone that can be worked in any direction which is why it can be used in buildings and was chosen by Sir Christopher Wren as the stone used to rebuild St Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of London.

All the Jurassic Rocks of Portland were laid down during a period which supported a rich variety of life and fossils abound all over the island.The most well known is the Titanites which are much sought after,There are often found in garden walls as an ornament.

Cliffs line most of the Portland coast and given the hardness of the rock are very popular with rock climbers.

It has to be said that unchecked quarrying has had a big impact not only on the landscape but also on local bird life and fauna, as the land is dug up.Only now is tunneling used to extract the stone.If only this method had been used from the start.

More extensive quarrying of the western coastal strip to Portland Bill is proposed.Some people are objecting to this so if you want to join the fight go

for more information.

sailing academy

Access to Portland is via the A354 from Weymouth though before you actually reach Portland you will pass the Weymouth & Portland Sailing Academy which will host the 2012 Olympic sailing event. The whole site is currently undergoing a big upgrade in preparation for the Games but in the meantime if you want to learn to sail,here is the place to do it.


Portland Castle

Once on Portland proper the first stop would be Portland Castle DT5 1AZ which is sign posted to the left from the first roundabout you come to.

portland castle

For once the car park next to the Castle is free though the entrance fee is £4 for adults and £2 for children.Entry is 10am to 6pm, though to 4pm in October.The castle is closed from November to March inclusive.

There is a ticket office at the entrance though if this is closed,buy tickets from the shop inside the Captain's House located to the left of the castle.A free audio guide is available.

The castle was built in 1539 by Henry VIII to counter the threat of invasion.It is only two stories high,a squat building to give less of a target.The land side was moated.

The castle also saw action during the English Civil War and was held by both Royalists and Parliamentarians.

The rooms are well preserved and offer a glimpse of life for the garrison,There are also heavy canons facing the sea.I have to say the setting of the castle has been spoilt by it's proximity to the commercial docks and does not have the presence of say

Corfe Castle although the latter is just a ruin now.There is a tea room to use after you have finished your tour,though it was closed due to "staff shortages" when I visited.

portland castle interior


HM Prison & Church Ope Cove

After leaving the castle drive up the steep road through Fortuneswell .At the top turn left at the roundabout and you will find free parking.

From here you will enjoy spectacular views of both Weymouth & Chesil Beach as it disappears off in the haze for 27kms along the coast.

I would recommend a visit to the Heights Hotel which is at the top of the hill you ascend from Portland.There is a great coffee shop there from which you can enjoy stunning views of Chesil Beach.

heights hotel portland dorset

Turn to the east and you will see a number of ditches and embankments which formed part of a great fortress which like the Castle down below was felt necessary to defend the country.Convict labour was used in the construction which is ironic as it is now a prison!

Leaving here I would recommend you drive down the east side of the island towards Easton and look out for a pub on the left called the Mermaid.Just past this pub on the right is a car park. After parking cross the road and look for a sign that points to Church Ope Cove.

Follow the path by a castle ruin then down some steep steps,past a spooky private cemetery, and onto the beach.Here you will find a beach that is very pebbly so sun bathing would be uncomfortable. However on the day I visited it was hot so a few people were in the sea.

church ope cove

There are number of beach huts here,and given the nature of the beach the owners stay by their huts rather than venture onto the beach.Many huts have little stone walls around them made from the beach pebbles.

Back at the top of the hill is the Museum though it was closed on the day I was there.It IS open on Mondays,Tuesdays,Fridays & Sundays 1030am to 430pm from Easter to the end of October.Admission is £2 for adults,children free.It has exhibitions on shipwrecks and smuggling.


Portland Bill

Leaving here I suggest you keep going south down to Portland BIll which is the most southerly point on the island.You will know you are there when you see the lighthouses.

There is ample parking here the charge is £1.60 for up to two hours and £6.50 up to 24.

portland lighthouse

The Bill has three lighthouses as ships used to line them up to get their bearings.The operational one is computer controlled and tours are given but once again it was closed on the day I was there,a Saturday.Open every other day though! Admission is £2.50 for adults £1.50 for children and seniors.

There is a shop on the ground floor of the lighthouse which seems to be open every day selling maps, and books about the area.

Spend some time here and walk along the cliff top.You will see a number of cranes which were used to load Portland Stone onto boats for transportation to London.

On both sides of the Bill you will find raised beaches which were formed about 210000 years ago when sea levels were 47 feet above their present level.It is made up of flint chert and limestone formed during an interglacial period.As the icecap melted sea levels rose depositing shell fauna on these beaches.

If you are hungry by now check out the Lobster Pot Restaurant where aside from seafood you can try clotted Dorset Cream, two scones,jam and a pot of tea for £5.25.There is a hatch which serves food should you just wish to sit outside.

portland rock

If you wish to take your interest in stone further visit Tout Quarry which is just west of the Heights Hotel.Here visiting artists have carved out sculptures from stone in a maze of quarry tracks.They even run courses from one to four weeks duration.Fees start at £245.Go

for more information.

After that continue you visit to the Jurassic Coast by visiting Weymouth.

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